NEARLY one in five small employers in Scotland would consider closing their businesses if Brexit creates additional barriers to recruiting citizens of other European Union countries, a survey has revealed.

Meanwhile, 37 per cent of small employers north of the Border would consider reducing their operations in such circumstances, and 12 per cent would contemplate moving their businesses abroad, according to a survey by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

Glasgow-based Colin Borland, head of devolved nations for the FSB, said these findings were “probably not what those who were advocating a Leave vote would have been hoping for”.

The 19 per cent of small employers in Scotland that would consider closing their businesses in the event of Brexit-fuelled recruitment problems is much greater than a corresponding eight per cent for the UK as a whole.

The survey shows 67 per cent of small businesses in Scotland are concerned about accessing people with the skills they need post-Brexit.

It reveals 26 per cent of small employers in Scotland have at least one non-UK, EU citizen among their staff, compared with about 21 per cent in the UK as a whole. This proportion rises to 41 per cent in the Highlands. About 45 per cent of Scottish small businesses in the tourism and leisure sector have at least one non-UK, EU worker.

The FSB survey also reveals that 89 per cent of small businesses in Scotland with non-UK, EU staff hired these employees when they were already living in the UK.

Referring to some people’s perception of firms’ hiring of non-UK, EU citizens, and contrasting this with the reality indicated by the FSB survey, Mr Borland said: “This is sometimes characterised as employers going out and trawling Eastern Europe for labour and wholesale importing [it].

“This is just about advertising the job and choosing the best person that applies. It underlines the fact we are recruiting from people who are already in the UK labour pool, rather than recruiting from overseas, and employing the right person for the job.”

Noting this was “not just the right thing to do”, he added: “It is the best thing to do for your business, and a very good way of not breaching employment law.”

The FSB said it was vital for Scottish businesses that non-UK, EU workers were given the right to remain in the country after Brexit, including employees who arrive during the exit negotiations.

It is also asking the UK Government to put in place a “transition period”, during which existing immigration arrangements would continue after Brexit, until a new system was in place. Mr Borland noted small businesses were signalling a belief that such a transition period should last more than three years. The FSB is urging that any new immigration policy is “easy to comply with for employers and responsive to the needs of the Scottish economy”, and calling on the UK Government to work with the Scottish Government.

Mr Borland said: “Ever since the vote [to leave the EU] the issue about access to labour has been the top issue that members have been raising with us. It is not surprising that those who have at least one EU worker on their staff are particularly concerned about hanging on to them and also how they are going to meet their future recruitment needs.”

The FSB found 95 per cent of UK small firms have no experience of using the points-based immigration system for non-EU workers.